Smoke, Water and a little Burning

It’s time to say goodbye today to our ocular obsession so we can see our way clear to the next thing that pops into our musically minded brains here at WMMCM.

It reminds me of twenty plus years ago when I was doing some work with Carmine Appice’s Power Rock Video crew. I was fortunate to be working with some very talented folks at what were then some of the best recording studios in Los Angeles. Cherokee Studios down on Fairfax, the long defunct USA Studio, at Hollywood and Vine, and Can-Am studio in Tarzana.

Cherokee and USA are long gone and Can-Am is now called Ironworks - but at least it’s still there. Those were some fun times. Lots of work, but always fun.

With Carmine being a rock drummer legend he was always able to get his pals to come in and join the fun. Rock instructional videos were still fairly new at the time so it was pretty easy to get some serious players involved.

As I was still the new guy without much experience in those days I was detailed to take my truck and go and pick up Tony Franklin and his gear. Tony Franklin had just recently finished recording and touring with The Firm. Yep, that Tony freakin’ Franklin.

The Firm, with Led Zeppelin guitar god Jimmy Page, Chris Slade from Uriah Heep and Manford Mann on drums, Franklin – of course – on bass and Paul Rodgers formerly of Free and Bad Company providing lead vocals.

They sent me off to get Tony Franklin and his gear in my 1973 Ford Courier pickup with no air conditioning and a reverse gear that, shall we say, was temperamental. (It would work, but only if you gave it – a boost. As in, a slight push. And then another – slight – push.)

Tony was a great guy and had a sense of humor about the whole thing – as he helped me push the directionally challenged Courier – back out of his apartment driveway. It did go forward reasonably well, just not very quickly.

Arriving at the former Can-Am studios we had some help offloading Tony’s gear. Drummer Fred Coury of the hair metal band Cinderella was kind enough to help me lift Tony’s bass amp stack out of the back of the limping Courier and into the – thankfully – well air conditioned studio.

I had worked with Carmine and his crew a few times before so I didn’t feel too awkward about the whole thing, but it was kind of unsettling when I had to move my automotive wonder out of the way so other equipment could be brought in and, well, it was up-hill, backwards.

So, I had to have a few – as in four – guys help to push my marvel of technology back up out of the loading dock. (Carmine, Tony and Fred were not among the volunteers.)

I was not asked to take Tony and his gear back home at the end of the day…

Now that the saga of the cantankerous Courier has run it’s course, (forward – not backwards,) it’s time to reveal our next direction. (Forwards I would hope.)

Cheese By Any Other Name is where we are headed.

Songs about real people.

It can be a song that simply drops a well known name in the lyric or a song about someone in particular. The song can be titled as a real person’s name or it can be about someone without ever mentioning the name outright but the point is, it must really be about someone – real.

To start, or actually continue with, the name dropping, (See above…) we’re all going down to Montreux, you know, on the Lake Geneva shoreline.

Here’s the e-mail link! Yea!

“Smoke on the Water” is probably the most famous guitar riff in rock. Everybody from my generation certainly knows how it goes. Dah, dah, dah – dah, dah, dah-ahh, and so on. The great part about this is that the riff that everyone knows is borrowed, or at least influenced to be polite, from The Stooges 1970 song, “Loose.” If you’re really picky you can take it a few years earlier to jazz pianist Gil Evens in 1966 with his work on “Maria Quiet.”

None of this is a secret or really even controversial, just kind of fun to know that what you know sometimes isn’t quite, what you know.

Either way, “Smoke on the Water” is one of those game-changing songs. It made Deep Purple one of the true legends of hard rock and is a song you will hear quite often on rock radio today. (Though, annoyingly, they seem to only play the inferior live version for some unknown reason.)

With guitarist Ritchie Blackmore’s iconic riff starting the show, “Smoke on the Water” still grabs you each and every time it comes on the radio, or your iPod. Roger Glover’s thumping bass sits right down and joins the fun right along with Ian Paice’s drums and the whole thing takes off.

Jon Lord’s keyboards hold it all together until Ian Gillan starts telling the story of the band’s experience playing and trying to get some recording done while in Montreux, Switzerland.

We all came out to Montreux, on the Lake Geneva shoreline.
To make records with a mobile, we didn’t have much time.
Frank Zappa and the Mothers were at the best place around.
But some stupid with a flare gun burned the place to the ground.”

This is one of the rare times in rock n’ roll that the story being told is actually pretty close to the truth.

Behind Blackmore’s moody guitars you can hear Roger Glover playing a contiuously walking bass line that is all over the place. His bass sound is mean and muddy while still keeping tight definition of all his notes. And there are a lot of notes.

“They burned down the gamblin’ house, it died with an awful sound.
And Funky Claude was running in and out, pulling kids out the ground.
When it all was over, we had to find another place.
But Swiss time was running out, it seemed that we would lose the race.”

“Funky Claude” is Claude Nobs, the director of the Montreux Jazz Festival who was
there, pulling audience members out of the now burning casino.

Jon Lord’s keyboards have this pulsing feel to them all throughout “Smoke on the Water.” He fills in all those sweet spaces where Blackmore’s guitar rests for a second and rides along with Glover’s busy bass. These guys were tight.

One of my favorite things to listen to on any Deep Purple song is Ian Paice’s drumming. Paice has terrific technique and amazing speed. He places all these neat, lightning fast rolls at the end of the phrase that are rediculously complicated and perfectly timed. His performence on “Smoke on the Water” is actually a walk in the park for Paice compared to some other Deep Purple tracks.

If you feel the need to hear a bit more of what an amazing drummer Paice is, listen to “Burn.” It’s a wonder how he kept it up for five minutes – and more – much less a full concert with all the speed, power and sheer masculinity of his playing.

Deep Purple – with this line-up – was absolutly at it’s creative height. It didn’t last very long, and they did give it a go again with these same guys in the early 80′s, but 1972′s Machine Head and “Smoke on the Water” defined the band.

They’re still around these days with Gillan, Glover and Paice being joined by former Dixie Dregs and Kansas guitarist Steve Morse and Don Airey on keyboards. Don is one of those guys who has played with so many major acts, Ozzy, Rainbow, Gary Moore, Jethro Tull and so on, that it would take a while to go through, you can safely say, he’s a great choice to take over for Jon Lord.

“Smoke on the water, a fire in the sky!”

About Pete

Pete is a professional-musician-with-a-day-job based in California's Inland Empire, as well as a veteran sound engineer in the studio and for live shows. He's been a lover of classic rock since back when it was known as "rock" and has in more recent years developed a country habit as well.
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One Response to Smoke, Water and a little Burning

  1. Michele says:

    I love the guitar riff that comes in around 2:59 and keeps going up to 3:40 where it is rejoined by the rest….great stuff that! I did wander over and listen to “Burn” as well, still amazed at the speed of the whole song, at 6:05 that must have been one exhausting workout (though well worth it imho) ♫

    Thanks for this one Pete